Community groups selected for sponsored refugees scheme

11:34 am on 12 January 2018

Four church and community groups have been selected to sponsor refugees and help them settle in New Zealand.

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Photo: RNZ

Up to 30 Syrian refugees will be approved for residence by June under the pilot scheme.

The chosen community organisations will be announced later this month.

Sponsors will be responsible for arranging accommodation, connecting them with local services and placing them in employment.

Catholic church agency Caritas is among the groups hoping to take part.

Its director, Julianne Hickey, said it already has experience helping refugees set up new homes.

"Everything from spoons to duvets to stocking up fridges to make sure that when a family comes in they're welcomed.

"As well as making sure we are sensitive to the trauma that a refugee family has gone through," she said.

"So that psychological and social is a really important aspect of helping a family settle."

New Zealand Red Cross national migration programme manager Rachel O'Connor said the pilot was exciting.

She said it was similar to a programme in Canada which has offered protection and a new home to more than 275,000 refugees since 1979.

"It's another opportunity, it's another door for people to come through," she said.

"We've seen it work incredibly positively in Canada - the ability for community groups to do what the government is doing as well, in terms of sponsoring refugees in, providing hospitality, providing orientation."

She said the government set quite high bars for sponsored refugees but there was hope the criteria would be loosened if the pilot was extended.

Amnesty International campaigns director Meg de Ronde said humanitarian needs should be at the heart of the criteria, with no discrimination against refugees because of their age, language ability and professional skills.

Organisations were given about a month to put detailed applications together to take part, a week after the criteria were announced.

But she said everyone was keen to make a success of the pilot, and it was a crucial step forward.

Immigration New Zealand refugee division national manager Andrew Lockhart said the groups taking part were all strong organisations with dedicated people ready to do work on the ground.

He said some groups may nominate refugees they have connections to, and staff would be visiting Lebanon and Beirut in March to identify other suitable candidates, who would likely be from Syria.

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